How to Practice More Compassion at Work During COVID-19 and Beyond

Empathy in the workplace is more important than ever.

Kate Kultsevych /  Shutterstock
Kate Kultsevych / Shutterstock

In this time of great uncertainty in the world, a new approach to leadership is needed: one that recognizes the paramount importance of compassion. As workers face new challenges they’ve never encountered before, expressions of empathy from leaders — as well as other colleagues — have been critical to employee well-being and productivity. And as stay-at-home orders lift and more companies open their doors to their workforce, offering kindness and support to teammates is key to a smoother re-entry.

We asked our Thrive community to share how they plan to communicate or lead with compassion and empathy in our next normal. Which of these will you try?

Check in with teammates regularly

“I regularly check in with my team one-on-one to ask them how they are doing — and I plan to continue doing this when we re-enter the workplace. I have also asked each team member how we can best support them so that they can balance both work and family.  Ensuring that individuals have flexibility in their schedules to manage family and outside priorities seems to be helping. I feel that going forward, we will have to reassess how we meet our employees’ needs since the road ahead seems unpredictable from so many angles. It’s important that we do our best and be kind to one another.”

—Linda Miller, president of EWI Works and occupational therapist, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Ask meaningful questions

“I will continue to ask people how they are really doing and will pause to await a reply instead of rushing to the next question. Instead of asking, ‘How are you,’ which has become a very quick and transactional exchange which often follows with a quick ‘good and you…’ reply, leading with more personalized and thoughtful questions allows all of us to showcase our humanity, humility, and vulnerability.”

—Marta Chavent, change and management consultant, France

Be considerate of others’ time

“One way I plan to lead with compassion and empathy in our next normal is through being more considerate of others’ time. Previously, I operated with a sense of urgency most of the time. I understand now that what might be urgent to me may not be urgent for someone else for a variety of reasons. Being respectful and understanding of others’ time will be necessary as we continue to adapt to evolving circumstances.”

—Alyssa Swantkoski, executive assistant, Denver, CO 

Model compassion — toward yourself 

“I believe self-compassion is key, and will be even more crucial going forward. Single-tasking is slowly changing my multitasking habit, and it’s made a huge difference for me. I’ve also been making more of an effort to work on breathing exercises, as this helps me release stress and reconnect.”

—Loreta Pivoriunaite, performance strategist, Lithuania 

Allow for differences in how you cope

“For me, it will be important to hold space for those around me as they navigate changes and adapt to the new normal at their own pace. The best way of doing this is through having open and non-judgemental conversations, so that we don’t make assumptions about what others need, but rather, we hear what they have to say and ask what we can do to help create an environment that is safe and provides for their needs as much as possible. Being conscious of how subjective our experiences are will allow us to remember that some of us may be more resilient and adaptable than others.”

—Marjan Oloumi, human resources, Sydney, Australia

Rethink gender-biased policies 

“I think one thing that needs to change in workplace culture is inequality in our treatment and expectations of people according to their gender. I fear the burden of housework and childcare that women are expected to carry on top of their paid jobs is unsustainable and dangerous. Before COVID-19, women were already doing significantly more of the home and family work, and now, most women are doing an even higher percentage than before, while also homeschooling and preparing more meals. The burden has moved from huge to unmanageable, and I’m concerned that we are going to see a burnout pandemic if things don’t change. We won’t see gender equality at work until we enable it in the home. And for this, employers need to kill the ‘mom policies’ and move to ‘people policies’ that are as valid for men as for women.”

—Gill Whitty-Collins, consultant, coach, speaker, and author, Geneva, Switzerland 

Keep communication constant

“This time has taught me that it’s important to communicate with compassion during crises, and that informed people are happy people. Early on, our company started working remotely and we pivoted sharply to move most of our services online in a relatively short period of time. In mid-February, just as some companies were closing down or filing bankruptcy, several of my staff inquired about whether I anticipated layoffs or furloughs. Communicating consistently was vital to our success. I strove to speak to the anxieties, worries, and vulnerabilities of staff, ensuring them that we would continue to do good work. I will continue to prioritize constant communication in our next normal.” 

—Terrell L. Strayhorn, professor and entrepreneur, Nashville, TN

How do you plan on communicating with others more compassionately in our next normal? Let us know in the comments!

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